Creating a balanced news diet

UCLA psychologist Richard LeBeau reviews a 4-step process for keeping a balanced news diet.

Since the start of the crisis, the news has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic around the clock. Much of this news has been scary or depressing. For most of us, our eyes are glued to our screens, or our ears to our podcasts.

It’s easy to get hooked on the news when scary and unpredictable things are happening in the world. We naturally want to understand what’s going on and how to keep safe. During this pandemic, the news is where we learn the latest health and safety guidelines and how to get needed resources. Staying informed can save lives.

But we can get too hooked on the news. What are the signs and consequences? When we hear the same stories over and over we’re not learning any new information, that’s a sign; especially if watching the news is make our mood worse and distracting us from important things that need our attention.

Below, we share a simple 4-step approach for getting the news we need while making sure the news doesn’t hurt our mood. You will learn how to balance staying informed with staying healthy so that you can get through this time with both your physical and emotional health intact.

Four-step approach

  1. Pick one or two trusted news sources.

    We recommend picking one or two trusted news sources for getting all your news. Consider picking a trusted national news website and a trusted local news outlet. This way, you can stay informed about what’s happening across the world, as well as close to home.

    Picking two trusted news sources will help you avoid spending time surfing the internet for random news. It also reduces the risk of coming across unreliable or click-bait news.

  2. Schedule times for getting the news.

    Once you have picked your trusted news sources, schedule a specific time of day for the news. We recommend at most two 30-minute time slots per day.

    While you will want to schedule a time that fits with your personal and work responsibilities, try to make sure you don’t schedule the time first thing in the morning or as the last thing before you go to bed. Getting stressful information early in the morning can put you in a bad mood for the rest of your day. And learning stressful information before bed can send your mind racing and make it harder to fall asleep.

  3. Check in with yourself after your scheduled news time.

    After your scheduled news fix is over, ask yourself the following questions:

    • How much new information did I get from the news?
    • Did I learn anything that directly impacts my life right now?
    • Is my mood better, worse, or no different than it was before I got the news?

    Asking these questions can help you decide if the information you’re learning from the news is useful, or if it’s hurting your mood. If the news is not useful or it’s making your mood worse, it might be a sign to reduce the amount of time you are spending with the news

  4. Redirect your attention to something else.

    After you’re finished checking in with yourself, it’s time to leave the news behind by engaging in an activity that requires your full attention. These activities include exercise, talking to a friend or family member, putting on a TV show or movie you like, or working on items on your “Engaging Activities” list.

    On your own: Do the pre-work and make an Engaging Activities list

What if watching or reading the news gets me all worked up?

It’s common to feel worked up after receiving news about the current crisis. When we are tense or anxious, it can be challenging to focus on something besides our worry. That’s why we suggest having a go-to list of engaging activities that absorb your attention. If the activity you selected isn’t working to get your mind off the news, keep trying new activities until you find one that works.

When the news hurts your mood, you also should consider practicing a meditation exercise to help bring your attention to the present moment. Research has shown that meditation exercises can reduce our tension and anxiety and train our brains to more easily shift our focus away from distressing thoughts.

Steps to help you focus on the present:

  1. Find a comfortable spot in your home where you can be free from interruptions.
  2. Sit and gently close your eyes.
  3. Take several slow and deep breaths.
  4. Notice where your mind is. It may be replaying something from the past, thinking about what you just heard on the news, or worrying about the future. Whatever your mind is doing, just notice it.
  5. Shift your attention to what is going on around you. Identify what sounds you can hear, what scents you can smell, how it feels to sit wherever it is you’re sitting, or what your breath feels like as you inhale and exhale.
  6. When you notice your mind shifting to what you heard on the news or something in the future, gently bring your attention back to what is going on around you in the present moment.
  7. Continue doing this for several minutes.
  8. Gently open your eyes and spend a few moments reflecting on your experience. Were you able to shift your attention away from what you heard on the new? What did that feel like?

Try out the 4-Step Process

We encourage you to try the 4-step process to manage how much you spend with the news and observe how the news affects you. By following the approach, we can stay informed and emotionally healthy.

Downloadable Resources to Use on Your Own

Information Sheet:

Pre-Work Lists:

How-to Guides